The Miami Heat face perhaps their most difficult challenge of the playoffs on Saturday night, getting a second win in Bankers Life Fieldhouse against the Indiana Pacers. A win on Saturday would propel the Heat to their third straight NBA Finals, but a loss would result in a Game 7 match-up against the Pacers back in Miami. The Heat have won their last six close-out games, but no one expects things to be easy.
“The close-out game is always the toughest,” Heat forward Shane Battier said.
To make matters all the more difficult, reserve center Chris Andersen has been suspended for Game 6 after his altercation with Indiana forward Tyler Hansbrough. The loss of the Birdman will force Heat head coach Erik Spolestra to adjust his rotation, and no doubt the prideful Pacers will respond to their crowd’s frenzied presence. Here are a few things to watch for in tonight’s pivotal Game 6 contest.
When Chris Andersen hip-checked Tyler Hansbrough and pushed the spastic forward, he was only assessed a flagrant-1 foul and a technical foul. Pundits immediately called for his suspension, perhaps deservedly so, but Andersen was allowed to continue playing in the game and registered a vicious block on a Hansbrough lay-up attempt a little later. The NBA stepped in on Friday, upgraded Andersen’s foul to a flagrant-2, which, had it been assessed during the game it would have resulted in his ejection, and suspended the colorfully hued Heat forward for tonight’s Game 6.
If Miami made one more “winning” play in Game 1, as LeBron James put it, then Indiana made two in Game 2. In a contest that featured a number of offensive runs by both teams, and some spectacular plays by the stars, it came down to turnovers and defense once again. LeBron James turned the ball over twice in the final minute, having his passes deflected by David West, and the Indiana Pacers were able to steal Game 2, 97-93, and even the best-of-seven series at 1-1.
While Paul George may have had the highlight of the night when he flew over Birdman Chris Andersen for a vicious one-handed dunk, Roy Hibbert was the most important player for the Pacers. Hibbert, who was benched at the end of Game 1, dominated the entirety of Game 2, as he scored a playoff career-high 29 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
“We haven’t done anything yet,” Hibbert said after the game. “We haven’t closed the series out. We won one game. A lot of us feel we should be up 2-0.”
“It’s one of the best basketball games I’ve ever been a part of,” Indiana head coach Frank Vogel said after the game. “It wasn’t about LeBron making mistakes down the stretch. He played one of the best basketball games I’ve ever seen anybody play. We were just able to make a couple plays late in the game.”
Fittingly, those plays came on the defensive end for the best defensive team in the league.